Kids Vs. Aliens Review: A Charmingly Simplistic Monster Movie [Fantastic Fest]

Sometimes you just need a simple monster movie. Look, I watch a lot of horror and genre pics, and I love it when they stretch themselves beyond the boundaries of the genre. I love when filmmakers attempt to use the building blocks of horror and rework them into new, unique shapes. But I also love it when someone says, "You know what? I'm gonna make a simple monster movie." And that's what makes the silly, unhinged "Kids vs. Aliens" so enjoyable.

Directed by "Hobo With a Shotgun" helmer Jason Eisener, "Kids vs. Aliens" will no doubt draw comparisons to "Stranger Things" with its story of kids butting up against the supernatural (there's even a scene when they all get on their bikes!). But as enjoyable as "Stranger Things" can be, it's sanitized. That can't be said for "Kids vs. Aliens," which gleefully embraces gore and danger to emulate the type of old-school monster movie kids would gleefully devour late at night during sleepovers. 

None of this is to say "Kids vs. Aliens" gets away unscathed. The film, which clocks in at a wonderfully brisk 75 minutes, takes a long time to get to the whole "aliens" part of the "Kids vs. Aliens" set-up. And while I wouldn't dream of giving away spoilers, let's just say the film's final minutes all but obliterate everything that came before, so much so that you might wonder what the hell the point of it all was. But perhaps there really isn't a point. Perhaps this is just a monster movie with no other goals, and perhaps there's nothing wrong with that. 

Alien mythology

Teenager Sam (a very likable Phoebe Rex) has seemingly no friends her age and spends all her time hanging out with her little brother Gary (Dominic Mariche) and his two friends Miles (scene-stealer Ben Tector) and Jack (Asher Grayson Percival). The four of them all appear in Gary's manic, confusing, wrestling-adjacent movies that he films with all the gleeful enthusiasm of a budding auteur. But then one day, Sam meets Billy (Calem MacDonald), a ridiculously handsome teen — "I know," he confidently says when Sam marvels at his shirtless torso — who takes an interest in Sam seemingly out of nowhere. 

Now all Sam wants to do is impress Billy and his mean friends and ignore her nerdy brother. Halloween is approaching — a fact highlighted with great atmospheric shots of pumpkins sitting on walls overlooking lakes, and orange-tinted sunsets — and Billy talks Sam into throwing a party at her big house while her parents are out of town. He promises the party will be small, but it becomes clear rather quickly that Billy's motives are not pure. In fact, he might be a psychopath. But that discussion will have to wait for another time, because wouldn't ya know it, a bunch of aliens have invaded and are targeting the kids. 

I loved the aliens in this film. I loved that they seemingly have no motive other than to torture and murder people. The aliens also seem to have some kind of cult-like religion going on, and I dug that concept — you don't really see that sort of thing in alien invasion movies. Little ideas like that can go a long way, and I could've used a little more alien mythology to spice things up. 

Kids acting like kids

The back half of "Kids vs. Aliens" packs the most punch, unleashing practical effects in the form of the aliens and their weird world full of goopy liquids that melt off people's skin, and experimentations that can morph a human being into a monster. Does any of it make sense? No, but it looks friggin' cool, as does one of the aliens who is wearing a red veil and some sort of weird, spiky crown. Is this an alien queen? Some sort of alien priest? No idea! And I don't need this stuff explained — just give me more of it and let my imagination run wild. 

I appreciated how realistic the kids are here. These are not the typical movie kids — you know the kind, who all talk like adults, constantly uttering lightning-fast quips. No kid talks like that, and whenever I see that sort of thing in a movie — and it happens a lot — I immediately lose interest. That's not a kid talking — that's a screenwriter who forgot what kids actually sound like. Here, the kids say and do dumb stuff, because that's what kids do. They curse like sailors, talk trash, and act like little monsters. But they also care about each other, and that rings true, too. You're never as close with anyone as you are with the weirdo outcast friends of your youth. 

"Kids vs. Aliens" achieves what it sets out to do. Like the best junk food, it doesn't offer you anything nutritious, but you'll still enjoy the meal. You just might feel a little gross the next day, but hey, that's okay, too. Those in search of a gooey monster movie with not much on its mind are bound to love "Kids vs. Aliens." Shame about that ending, though.

/Film Rating: 6 out of 10